Game 2: BOS vs. NYY — It’s going to be a frigid April, isn’t it?

It was a very cold night in the Bronx, something that I think helped Boston win tonight 7-4; Boston is a town, after all, with average colder temperature for their outdoor stadium than New York. I know I may be grasping at straws here, but when your team loses its second game of the two games played this season, I think you’re entitled to grasp whatever works for soothing your denial. (And yes, I’m mixing clichés because it’s late and I’m recovering from a nasty cold, so your grace is appreciated.)

Starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda had to leave the game early in the 2nd inning due to a bruised middle finger, due to trying to catch a ball with his bare hand. He was replaced by Cody Eppley, who gave up 4 runs and 4 hits in a just over an inning. Adam Warren was able to do more in his 5 innings and keep Boston from continuing to run up the scoreboard.

Two offensive powerhouses helped pick the Yankees up a bit off the floor. In the 4th inning, Travis Hafner earned his pinstripes and put the Yankees on the board with his first solo home run of the season and as a Yankee. Hafner doesn’t have the defense to earn Yankee fan respect, so he only has his offense. And it seems like he’s off to a good start.  And in the 8th inning, trailing 7-1, Vernon Wells hit his first home run as a Yankee, earning his pinstripes tonight with a 3-run homer. For the handful of people still braving the frigid cold, this was the best it got tonight and well worth the 3 1/2 hour game time.

I should add the interesting defense of Chris Stewart in the 7th inning catching a foul ball diving into the Red Sox dugout. It was nice of Pedroia and Middlebrooks to rush to aid his flip over the barrier, further proof that there is no real ill will between the rivals, especially as you never know which Red Sox will don pinstripes next year. Right, Youkilis?

It’s going to be a long April missing half of the starters, and tonight only continued to prove that. It’s not that the rest of the players aren’t capable of playing and winning the games. No, it’s just that they’re not playing as a team. And it’s not players that win games, but teams. So when the Yankees as a team show up to play ball, we’ll see more W’s on the scoreboard and less nasty media articles. Honestly, we’ve been through worst seasons, and really, it’s only April 3rd. Give them some time, give everyone some time to be the teams that can contend for the post season. Because doesn’t the new MLB ad say that they “play for October”? And is it October? No, but it’s certainly feels like October in the Northeast.

Go Yankees!

Agents and managers and groundskeepers…oh my!

So I waited all day to see if there was anything worth writing about, some human interest story or something of some long-term interest, and the only thing anyone’s talking about is Robinson Cano switching agents. And I guess, due to Cano’s recent WBC play and MVP award and his coming Free Agency, this is very important to both Cano and the Yankees, and thus is important for Yankees fans and all the major news outlets. But I suppose what makes it more significant is that he cut ties with agent Scott Boras, who’s known as a fearless shark in the sports world, to sign with Roc Nation (under agency conglomerate CAA), an entertainment representative company co-founded by musician and sports enthusiast (and co-owner of the Brooklyn Nets) Jay-Z.

Cano was quoted as wanting to have more say in his negotiations, something based on recent ex-client revelations doesn’t happen very often with Boras’ clients. And perhaps, Cano felt like with the discussion of a contract extension with the Yankees wasn’t progressing the way he wanted it to. Honestly, Cano has all but come right out and said he wants to retire in pinstripes, so (and I’m really guessing here) I think Boras would rather hold out for a higher paycheck than see Cano return to the Yankees for, to be frank, what he will be worth over the next few years. Boras has gotten some really ridiculous numbers for some of his other clients, like Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, and even Alex Rodriguez. (It should be noted that Rodriguez was in the middle of firing Boras himself when he had his contract with the Yankees renegotiated in 2007, partly due to Boras’ insistence that Rodriguez be shopped elsewhere for more money. Sunday’s NY Times had an article on this dispute.)

What I like already about the new deal is how his new agency has made it very clear that negotiations are private and that they are looking to Cano to guide his own direction for the contract, something that I think will be a vastly different direction than recent representation.

I think a lot of people don’t realize that every professional athlete has an agent to negotiate their contracts for them with teams, like Jerry Maguire (with less screaming), and not just the big superstars, everyone has one. These agents do a lot of the hard work, while their clients can focus on playing their sport.

In addition to the sports agent, players often have a business manager who handles their finances. This person invests their millions to turn what could be an easy spending spree into a lifetime of invested income. There are so many tales of athletes who blow through their cash, thinking it’s going to last forever, when suddenly an injury ends their career and they have no income and no way to live at the age of 30. The business manager can be a lifesaver for athletes who may have never had to live on a budget or had to hire personnel (like personal security) or buy a house to live in.

Now, I personally hate doing the “money stuff” every month, and if I could hire someone to pay my bills and make sure I have money in my account, I wouldn’t think twice about doing so. If I could hire someone to negotiate my paycheck with my employer and see if he could get me a better deal on the amount of work I do and the expectation that I’m going to just keep getting better at my job, I would hire that person in a heartbeat. I think we forget how many people go into making what we see on the field (or the television screen, as the case may be) happen — from agents and managers, to family and friends, to coaches and teachers, to owners and groundskeepers, to vendors and janitors. And while we may only remember the 18-ish men in uniform, those men are ever grateful for the work of everyone else in their lives to give them the freedom to do their job and to do so with the best of their ability.

Go Yankees!

Game 1: BOS vs. NYY — Could this game be an April Fool’s joke?

Today was Opening Day for the 2013 Yankee season. Due to a long and rough 2nd inning for starting pitcher CC Sabathia, Boston took an early 4-0 lead, something the Yankees could just never quite overcome, eventually losing 8-2.

Opening Day Newtown
Opening Day Pre-Game Ceremonies honor the victims of the Newtown tragedy
via nypost.com

The festivities started with a very respectful tribute to the victims of the December Newtown tragedy. During a moment of silence, the names of those lost in the Sandy Hook shootings scrolled on the big screen. You could hear a pin drop. It was a fitting and emotional moment and a wonderful way to honor their memories.

For me, the two stand-out players on today’s roster were former Red Sox Kevin Youkilis and catcher Francisco Cervelli. Youkilis, at times, seemed like the only defensive player on the field, with his hustling, making key plays, and covering his teammates. Perhaps this is where age/experience is a huge factor, and perhaps his recent stints on other teams. He was clearly playing at level above much of the other team, who seemed discouraged by the Sox early lead. The team’s rhythm and momentum, despite the numbers on the scoreboard or fans in the stand, was strangely absent, something I’ve seen in recent Spring Training games, but never expected to see in Major League  regular season.

The other key player today was starting catcher Francisco Cervelli, who wasn’t initially thought to catch Sabathia today (in fact, he found out he was starting when he got to the park this morning), but he was clearly the right choice for the position. In addition to some truly excellent defense, including a great Jayson Nix (starting 3rd baseman) to Cervelli play to keep a run from scoring in the 6th inning, Cervelli’s most talked about contribution came on a 2-out 2-RBI single in the 4th inning, scoring the only 2 Yankees’ runs of the game.

In a game that started out so sunny and clear, quickly the skies became overcast, the wind kicked up, and by the end of the game, rain was pouring in the Bronx. The stadium began clearing at end of the 7th inning, with the Yankees trailing 5-2, and increased at every half-inning break, by the time the rain began whoever was left headed to the cover of the concourse or the Great Hall at Yankee stadium to await what was slowly becoming the inevitable outcome of the game.

I could spew out all the clichés here — “There’s still 161 games of the season.”, “It’s a long time until October.”, or “They just didn’t give their 100%.” And all of that is true, perhaps the final one more than most. Honestly, I guess I’m soothing my disappointment of today’s game with the knowledge that we’re getting back the “Big Three” (Teixeira, Granderson, and Jeter) in about a month or so. April could be really rough until then. Heck, the season could be really rough until they find their groove. But they will find it, and when they do, they’ll be the force we Yankee fans love to root for.

Go Yankees!

Developing the 25

First of all, a very Happy Easter to everyone! It’s only right (at least in my mind) that baseball season should start the day after a holiday celebrating new life and spring time.

Rosters have been submitted for Opening Day, which means that the 83 men who showed up back in February have now been whittled down to the select 25. Regular roster members that will begin the 15-day Disabled List are starting pitcher Phil Hughes (back), infielders Derek Jeter (ankle) and Mark Teixeira (arm), and outfielder Curtis Granderson (arm). All of these guys are estimated to see official play time end of April or May. Previously placed on the 60-day DL are pitchers Cesar Cabral and Michael Pineda and infielder Alex Rodriguez.

That being said, that leaves 25 spots to fill. So the starting rotation is CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Ivan Nova, and David Phelps. Manning the bullpen this year then are pitchers Joba Chamberlain, Cody Eppley, Shawn Kelley, Boone Logan, David Robertson, Adam Warren, and closer Mariano Rivera. Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart are slotted in the catcher’s role. The bench is filled with infielders Robinson Cano, Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez, Lyle Overbay, and Kevin Youkilis and outfielders Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco, Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki, and Vernon Wells.

To make room for Overbay, the Yankees designated pitcher Clay Rapada for assignment. In other words, another one bites the dust.

And that got me thinking again. I was reading a book recently about the development of specialized players. Its unfortunate side effect is that it actually weakens a player. They specialize in one particular area, so they never end up working on and strengthening all these other areas of a player and actually develop into a weaker player. So when the team needs someone who can, for example, pitch more than a handful of pitches every few days to get some solid return on their investment, they can’t depend on someone so specialized that they don’t have the stamina and longevity to do that job.

Perhaps there’s an overall life lesson in that after all. If we focus too much on strengthening one area (like work), we can actually weaken another area (like family). Of course, we can’t do everything perfectly all the time at the same time. But there is a lot to be said for finding a balance and exerting excellence in every aspect as you come across it, not neglecting all else to focus in on one part.

And maybe in baseball (at least on the Yankees), we’re shifting from specialized players to a team of well-rounded ability and skill players. Similar to previous championship teams, the Yankees may have developed a 25-man (or 40, really) roster that can work as a team, without focusing on the individual needs and whims of the superstars or divas-in-training. Of course, where we land somewhere in August may have a completely different look or feel. But for now and today, before Sabathia throws the first pitch of the season tomorrow afternoon, there is such hope and dreams for another championship team and that 28th ring.

Go Yankees!

Exhibition Game: NYY vs. West Point — Honoring America

The Yankees officially ended their Spring at West Point’s United States Military Academy, touring the campus and playing a game against the cadet’s baseball team. The Yankees may have won today’s exhibition game 10-5, but really the day was about honoring those who dedicate their lives to serving our country. The team spent the morning touring the historic campus, lunching with the cadets, and hanging out in the bleachers and dugout of the USMA. (More stories from today’s visit is available here, via yankees.com.)

And while it was nice to see the Yankees take another win (in another non-game and won’t count for anything), I am always impressed with the club’s respect for our military. They show it at every home game, honoring a veteran and active duty personnel, and taking a moment to honor all those who serve with “God Bless America” at every 7th inning stretch. Other teams jump right into “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” or something semi-relevant to their team or cheesy wedding-DJ type songs. But the Yankees always start with respect and honor.

I remember the days immediately after 9/11 when our country became united in its patriotism and baseball was a remembrance of America’s pastime. Baseball was a temporary distraction from a world that had been shaken to its core and changed forever. Baseball was consistency and competition and a nod to the stability we so desperately needed. Baseball gave people something to cheer on and hope for. Baseball reminded us that we as Americans were on a team, united together for a single cause.

And today’s visit to those who take that “team mentality” to the next level reminded me of those days. Upon graduation, the cadets go on to bring freedom and peace to countries across the globe and here in the U.S. They are our real heroes, and they deserve our respect and honor. And I, for one, am proud to follow a team that regularly shows that kind of respect and honor to our military.

So today, I honor those who have taken their time and risked their lives to serve our country, including so many in my family. Thank you for your service.

Go Yankees!

Exhibition Game: NYY vs. WSH — The team, the cuts, the non-game

Andy Pettitte threw 6 strong innings in today’s exhibition game against the Washington Nationals, including striking out 6 batters. The Yankees won this afternoon’s game in D.C. 4-2 against was is estimated to be one of the best NL teams. And the Nationals can boast a regular lineup with superstars like Ryan Zimmerman, Jason Werth, Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond, and (USA Today’s cover story) Bryce Harper. But up against a well-seasoned workhorse like Pettitte, the Nationals might be glad they will never meet again this 2013 season outside of some fated World Series between the two.

It was the 4th inning today that made all the difference: a Youkilis solo home run, Hafner’s single, Wells’ double, a strike-out, a Nunez 2-RBI single (safe at 2nd on throwing error), a Chris Stewart RBI single, and 2 ground outs. And while the Nationals scored 2 of their own (both RBI singles), they never could quite catch the momentum that seemed to strike the Yankees for that brief 1/2 inning. Mariano Rivera also pitched the final three outs in what could be his last game at Nationals Park, notching the save. Honestly, that inning was the reason the Yankees are something to be reckoned with, as despite their injured stars, the team functioned as such — a team and raked up the runs to give Pettitte a decent lead to continue his start.

Now, while the critics are drilling into the team’s increasing DL, it’s really the pitching staff (particularly the starting rotation) that is the strongest factor of this season’s team. They always say, “if you don’t have pitching, you don’t have nothing.” Well, they got pitching, even when a starter is on the DL, there’s still excellent, solid pitching. So it sounds like we got something.

Speaking of pitching… the roster cuts were announced today, and for most people, the biggest surprise was to see that relief pitcher David Aardsma had been designated for assignment. (For my non-baseball friends and family reading that, it means he’s been released from his commitments to the Yankees and is free to be picked up and contracted to another team should they want him.) This news really disappointed me. And while I understand why (Girardi mentioned they needed a long reliever rather than Aardsma’s specialty as short-relief), it’s never an easy thing to digest to be let go from a team, especially one who’s worked hard to come back from rehabbing after 2011 Tommy John surgery. He played a good Spring, so hopefully he’ll find a home for 2013 soon.

Predictably making the roster were outfielder Ben Francisco and infielder Jayson Nix. Another shocker was sending Vidal Nuno to AAA to start the season, after such a stand-out spring and winning the award, but I suppose he is prepared to be called up should the need arise. (And chances are with this year’s luck, the need will arise.) Melky Mesa is optioned to AAA to start 2013, despite some hard-earned outings and spectacular defensive plays.

Something tells me this year will be nothing short on spectacular plays and stories of all these amazing guys. Best of luck to all!

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 33: PIT vs. NYY — The Final Spring Game

Hiroki Kuroda is ready for the season with a solid game pitched today, the last official Spring Training game, hosting the Pittsburgh Pirates. Though ultimately a 2-1 loss, Kuroda pitched six innings, only allowing one hit and striking out five batters. Kuroda is scheduled to be the #2 pitcher in the regular rotation and really has had the most consistent outcome this Spring of all the potential starting rotation.

Both teams were kept scoreless until the 7th inning where Yankees pitcher Boone Logan allowed a walk and a hit before taking a line drive to what he called his “left fat” (translation: hip/stomach area) and exiting the game. (Logan is scheduled to pitch at tomorrow’s exhibition game and is so far cleared for that assignment.) David Aardsma’s wild pitch allowed a run to score before an RBI single score Pittsburgh’s second and final run of the night.

The Bucs’ pitching staff held the Yankees’ decent offense at bay until Lyle Overbay’s 2-out RBI double in the final inning. Also adding to the hit list today were singles by Suzuki, Cano, and Youkilis, doubles by Boesch and Neal, and a nice triple by Cervelli in the 6th inning. Again the problem once again was not getting all those base runners to cross the plate and score the runs.

Probably the biggest news of today was the Yankees’ release of Juan Rivera, in lieu of recent acquisitions of OF Ben Francisco and IF Overbay. I personally have mixed feelings about this because I was starting to like Rivera’s contributions both to the on-field play of the team and to the dynamic of the clubhouse. At this point, it will be interesting to see where he lands, if he lands somewhere soon. I know the sharks have to be smelling blood in the water right now due to his Spring production. Well, good luck to him wherever he may land and soon!

I believe we should hear in the next few days what the honed-down 25 and 40-man rosters look like. Now, with several starters beginning the season on the DL, this has enabled Girardi and Cashman to allow for some new faces on both rosters. This reminds me of waiting for a list from school for a school play or the honor roll. They would always wait until the last possible second to post the list of names, as you anxiously awaited to see if your name made the list and what part you had. Nerve-wracking to say the least, and there was always a twist somewhere.

The Yankees posted their projected Opening Day line-up today: CF-Brett Gardner, RF-Ichiro Suzuki, 2B-Robinson Cano, 1B-Kevin Youkilis, DH-Ben Francisco, LF-Vernon Wells, SS-Eduardo Nunez, 3B-Jayson Nix, C-Chris Stewart, Pitcher-CC Sabathia. This is, in itself, an interesting twist. I am glad to see Youkilis at 1st and Nix at 3rd (a personal favorite corner combination recently); but Stewart over Cervelli is unexpected. I suppose this is to be chalked up to Girardi’s leaning toward having “personal catchers”, where the starting pitchers might work better with one or the other and get paired with that one for the season (barring injury). Or perhaps, Girardi just likes surprising everyone with something unexpected. And while I think this is a good line-up, I don’t doubt it will be fine-tuned and adjusted over the next few days.

On a final note, Vidal Nuno was awarded the James P. Dawson award today, given to the most outstanding Yankee rookie in Spring Training. Past recipients include: Willie Randolph (1976), Don Mattingly (1983), Jorge Posada (1997), Hideki Matsui (2003), Brett Gardner (2009), and most recently David Phelps (2012). Nuno is in very good company as he continues to develop his career in pinstripes. Congratulations!

Go Yankees!